Monday, 2 May 2011

Pakistan denies knowledge of bin Laden's location


ALI MOORE, PRESENTER: Here is an update on developments in Washington. We're joined by our correspondent, Craig McMurtrie.

Craig, the story broke late in the night in Washington. More details have now come out about this operation?


Yes, they have. We know, for example, that it was a Special Forces operation, believed to be Navy Seals, helicopters went in, that fire fight took some 40 minutes.

There are some reports that Osama bin Laden was actually firing. He was hit or shot in the head. It was a fatal wound. His body was taken back on one of the helicopters. Now there was an issue with one of the helicopters as they were leaving. That helicopter was put down and destroyed by the US Special Forces. They then returned to Afghanistan.

There are also reports that Osama bin Laden's body was buried at sea. These aren't confirmed, but, in a sense, I suppose that wouldn't be surprising because it denies the opportunity, as Peter was saying in his story, for some sort of a shrine.

The other interesting thing is that according to the White House timeline, from the moment when the Pentagon officials and the CIA were telling the president that they had Osama bin Laden to when they contacted him again saying that they could positively say it was Osama bin Laden and the White House could go public was some three to four hours.

ALI MOORE: Incredibly quick after so many years. Craig, there's already bogus photos that are in circulation. Do you expect the White House to release some sort of official proof that this is indeed Osama bin Laden?

CRAIG MCMURTRIE: There is debate going on about that behind the scenes right now. They obviously do have still images of the terrorist leader now. We are told that his face is not so disfigured that he can't be recognised. There are some concerns about the manner of the release, if there is a release, but this debate's going on, and I think now that there's some video coming out of the compound, which you just saw a clip of, that we can expect to see more of this and possibly photographs of Osama bin Laden some time perhaps today, perhaps in the days ahead.

ALI MOORE: What about this key issue of when the Pakistani government was told what was going on? What's the official answer to that question?

CRAIG MCMURTRIE: Well, there isn't really an official answer. US officials have been telling reporters privately that Pakistani authorities were not informed, that this was kept very, very close. Now, we are told that president Obama - one of the reasons this was delayed and that the announcement came so late here in the US last night was because Barack Obama was phoning world leaders and briefing them.

The Pakistani president, Zardari, was one of those he called. Interestingly, I've just heard a clip of an interview with Pakistan's ambassador to the United States. He's saying, "Look, the important thing now is not to dwell on who did what. The important thing is that Osama bin Laden has been killed." He said that, "If we had known he was there" - in this compound outside Islamabad - "we would have got him."

So at this stage there's no definitive sign that the Pakistani authorities were briefed. They seem to be saying that the US had better intelligence and kept this very, very close.

ALI MOORE: Indeed. That certainly does seem to answer the question - "if we had known, we would've got him." At home though, back in the US, what are the broader implications of this for president Obama? Certainly it would boost his security credentials.

CRAIG MCMURTRIE: It will. It's important to remember that in the lead-up to this there was a lot of debate about his leadership, whether he was too stand-offish, whether he had the right strategy in the Middle East and North Africa, whether he was doing the right thing in Libya. His speech was carefully calibrated last night. He made the point that he had taken the lead seat on this, that he was first briefed back in August, that he had made the decision for this operation, which had some risk to go ahead.

Of course, this will also strengthen his hand in terms of getting troops out of Afghanistan. Remember he wants to start drawing down troops in Afghanistan in the next two months. Clearly having Osama bin Laden out of the way will strengthen that.

And I'll leave you just with the front pages of the newspapers this morning. Washington Post: "Justice has been done"; the New York Times, very similar, again, "Justice has been done". The Wall Street Journal's going with "September 11 attacks avenged". So it's all the news here this morning. A lot of Americans are waking up to the news because of course it broke so late last night.

ALI MOORE: Craig McMurtrie, many thanks.